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Habakkuk 3:1

1. A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.

1. Precatio Chabakuk Prophetae super ignorantiis (vel, super canticis, aut instrumentis musicis.)


There is no doubt but that the Prophet dictated this form of prayer for his people, before they were led into exile, that they might always exercise themselves in the study of religion. We indeed know that God cannot be rightly and from the heart worshipped but in faith. Hence, in order to confine the dispersed Israelites within due limits, so that they might not fall away from true religion, the Prophet here sets before them the materials of faith, and stimulates them to prayer: and we know, that our faith cannot be supported in a better way than by the exercise of prayer.

Let us then bear in mind, that the way of fostering true religion, prescribed here to the miserable Israelites while dispersed in their exile, was to look up to God daily, that they might strengthen their faith; for they could not have otherwise continued in their obedience to God. They would, indeed, have wholly fallen away into the superstitions of the Gentiles, had not the memory of the covenant, which the Lord had made with them, remained firm in their hearts: and we shall presently see that the Prophet lays much stress upon this circumstance.

He calls it his own prayer, 4848     The more correct rendering here would be, “A Prayer (or rather, An Intercession) by Habakkuk the Prophet;” that is, It was a prayer composed by him. The preposition [ל] before Habakkuk, as often before David in the Psalms, would be better rendered in this way, than by “of;” for the meaning is, not that it was his prayer, that is, one offered up by him, but that it was composed by him. “A Psalm of David,” ought to be, “A Psalm by David.”—Ed. not because he used it himself privately, or composed it for himself, but that the prayer might have some authority among the people; for they knew that a form of prayer dictated for them by the mouth of a Prophet, was the same as though the Spirit itself was to show them how they were to pray to God. The name, then, of Habakkuk is added to it, not because he used it himself, but that the people might be more encouraged to pray, when they knew that the Holy Spirit, through the Prophet, had become their guide and teacher.

There is some difficulty connected with the word שגינות, sheginut. The verb שגג, shegag, or שגה, shege, means, to act inconsiderately; and from שגה, shege, is derived שגיון, shegiun. Many render it, ignorance; some, delight. Some think it to be the beginning of a song; others suppose it to be a common melody; and others, a musical instrument. Thus interpreters differ. In the seventh Psalm David, no doubt, calls either a song or some musical instrument by the word שגיון, shegiun. Yet some think that David bears testimony there to his own innocency; and that, as he was not conscious of having done wrong, his own innocency is alone signified by the title: but this is a strained view. The word is taken in this place, almost by common consent, for ignorances: and we know that the Hebrews denominate by ignorances all errors or falls which are not grievous, and such things as happen through inadvertence; and by this word they do not extenuate their faults, but acknowledge themselves to be inconsiderate when they offend. Then שגיון, shegiun, is no excusable ignorance, which men lay hold on as a pretext; but an error of folly and presumptions, when men are not sufficiently attentive to the word of God. But perhaps the word שגינות, sheginut, being here in the plural number, ought to be taken for musical instruments. Yet as I would not willingly depart from a received opinion, and as there is no necessity in this case to constrain us to depart from it, let us follow what had been already said,—that the Prophet dictates here for his people a form of prayer for ignorances, that is, that they could not otherwise hope for God’s forgiveness than by seeking his favor. 4949     This explanation, adopted by Calvin, is derived originally from Aquila and Symmachus, who rendered the phrase, ἐπι ἀγοηματων,—respecting oversights or errors: and they have been followed by Jerome, Vulgate, etc. The prior version of the Septuagint is, μετ ᾿ ὠδδης,—with an ode that this prayer is composed in metre, is evident from the word, “Selah,” and from the conclusion of the chapter. The most probable meaning of the word is what Drusius has suggested, and adopted by Grotius, Marckius, and Henderson, and that is, that it refers to a peculiar metre, a kind of composition, which from its irregularity is called erratica cantio, an erratic verse. “The prayer of Habakkuk,” says Drusius, “was to be sung according to the odes which they called Sigionoth.” To the same purpose is what Grotius says, that is, it is “a song according to the notes of an ancient ode which began with this word.” It is derived from [שגה], to go astray, to wander, that is, in this instance, from the regular metre of an ode. It is an erratic ode, that is, one containing varieties. It may be thus paraphrastically expressed, “According to the notes of the irregular ode;” or, as it is in the margin of our Bibles, “According to variable songs or tunes.”—Ed. And how can we be reconciled to God, except by his not imputing to us our sins?

But the Prophet, by asking for the pardons of ignorances, does not omit more grievous sins; but intimates that though their conscience does not reprove men, they are yet not on that account innocent and without guilt; for they often inconsiderately fall, and their faults are not to be excused for inadvertence. It is, then, the same thing as though the Prophet reminded his own people, that there was no remedy for them in adversity but by fleeing to God, and fleeing as suppliants, in order to solicit his forgiveness; and that they were not only to acknowledge their more grievous sins, but also to confess that they were in many respects guilty; for they might have fallen through error a thousand times, as we are inconsiderate almost through the whole course of our life. We now, then, perceive what this word means, and why the Prophet spoke rather of ignorances than of other sins. But I shall not proceed farther now, as there is some other business.

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